|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
August 21, 2017
August 21, 2017
In the late 1980s, The Bahamas became the first country in the region to offer a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance. Since then the sector has continued to nurture and develop talent, investing in the education of its professionals and giving them the tools needed to help the industry compete on a global level.
For over 40 years, the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services (BIFS) has been at the forefront of education and training in the sector. Courses on offer from the non-profit organization help practitioners develop advanced skills in a variety of areas including wealth management, financial planning and risk management. BIFS caters not just to entry- level students, but also to seasoned professionals who want to brush up their skills or move into another area.
Around 200 students enrol each semester to take advantage of the BIFS’s core financial certification and diploma programmes, while the specialized courses attract around 150-200 participants a year. BIFS executive director Kim Bodie says this schedule allows the organization to develop well-rounded professionals.
“Financial services offers a myriad of career opportunities and we provide the necessary skills,” she says. “Many people who hold top positions in the industry today have passed through the doors of this institution.”
Over the last decade, the BIFS has found itself diversifying its course offering to reflect changes and trends in the industry. More specialized subjects have now come onboard such as taxation, cyber security, data protection essentials and project management.
Bodie says this is due to a gradual shift from commercial banking to offshore finance and wealth management. The organization is also looking to set up a course on family offices.
“We have always moved with the times,” says Bodie. “The [traditional banking] industry may be shrinking, but we have to continue to serve the industry for any change that is to come. We need to continue to service the second pillar of our economy.”
The BIFS works closely with the industry when developing relevant training programmes. Responding to immediate concerns on the ground gives the institution a head start when it comes to preparing their students, says Bodie. “The industry owns the BIFS. Our council members come from the financial services sector. That is one thing that makes us stand out. We have been the pacesetters and we have led the way.”
Training, particularly in financial services, can take many forms. Internships, certifications, examinations and immersion courses–they all have a role to play in professional development.
While the BIFS focuses primarily on certifications for entry-level or established professionals, it also seeks to attract new entrants to the sector through its G12 initiative, which offers high-school students seven weeks of training in the fundamentals of financial services. The top six performing students are then selected for internships with member banks and the highest achiever completes a six-week internship with The Central Bank of The Bahamas.
Bodie says the scheme is “dear to her heart” and has seen great success with most participants opting to continue their studies in finance at the University of The Bahamas (UB). “The purpose of it is to spark their interest. There is a lot of talent in The Bahamas and a number of them are now working in the industry and building a career. Many of them do not have the guidance they need at home. It is important to give them that guidance.”
The Association of International Banks and Trust Companies (AIBT) also offers internships to promising students. In summer 2016, five UB students were awarded paid internships with member firms such as Winterbotham Trust Company, Andbank (Bahamas) and Credit Suisse, while two UB students enrolled in a six-week Spanish language and culture immersion programme in Mexico. In addition, the organization has been hosting the Nassau Conference for over a decade, bringing all levels of professionals together to learn from international experts, discuss pressing issues and network with colleagues. In 2016, the AIBT added another component to its training with a half- day Financial Services Bootcamp.
AIBT co-chair Bruno Roberts says all of these initiatives take different routes to the same goal. “In such a dynamic industry it is important to ensure that we are facilitating human capital development on a number of fronts. The conference provides a structured approach, the bootcamp provides classroom-style instruction and the internships afford real-world, hands-on experience. We believe this covers the most important bases and helps AIBT deliver professional development across the spectrum.”
Centre of excellence
Training continues to be top of the agenda for Bahamian financial services in the future. The Ministry of Financial Services has long been an advocate for establishing a centre of excellence in the country, a move that the former government said will raise The Bahamas’ profile, enhance human resources and improve the jurisdiction’s competitiveness in the region and abroad.
The BIFS has been involved in discussions with the Ministry to develop the centre. Consultants were engaged to assess the feasibility of the scheme in summer 2016 and plans are still ongoing.
Bodie is enthusiastic about the impact such a centre would have on the sector saying: “It would take our training to a higher level. It would mean opening up to people all over the world. We have our beautiful country and our sun, sand and sea so we could bring the heads of huge banks here to participate in high level training. It would be a great asset.”
In the meantime, the BIFS continues to review and innovate its curriculum. Bodie says the institute would like to go further, but is hampered by a lack of resources. She would like to see more emphasis on technology to equip students with the skills they will need in an increasingly digital world, and has plans for an incubator scheme to enable more entrepreneurs to succeed.
Roberts, too, has noted the trend towards greater technology in banking saying: “Technology is significantly impacting the way we conduct business. It is therefore necessary to learn about these technologies for their benefits and also for the way they impact our resource requirements, staff and efficiency.”
Keeping up with the changes is crucial, he adds, saying it goes to the heart of the jurisdiction’s success internationally. “The Bahamas prides itself as one of the world’s leading international financial centres and we can only maintain our position by investing in the people who work in the sector. Client needs and their demands are ever evolving and with the constant change in international tax policies, treaties and technologies, we as a jurisdiction must continue to invest in our people if we are to remain competitive.”